The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. This day is now a public holiday in New Zealand. The Treaty is an agreement, in Maori and English, which was made between the British Crown and about 540 Maori chiefs.
The Treaty was prepared in just a few days. Missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward translated the English draft into Maori overnight on 4 February. About 500 Maori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February.
Many chiefs supported the agreement as they were encouraged that their status would be strengthened. About 40 chiefs, starting with Hone Heke, signed the Maori version of the Treaty on 6 February. By September, another 500 had signed the document.
The Treaty has three articles. In the English version, Maori surrender the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Maori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Maori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects.
The Treaty has always interested me as we have a Bach in Russell and so spend a lot of time up there and have learnt a lot about the history of the Bay of Islands. The Treaty is often referred to when studying New Zealand's history and I believe that it is a vital part of New Zealand’s culture.